Looking for the Best Word? Tip #68

With thanks to Wordart.com for the word cloud.

Help for writers and language learners; these posts look at different aspects of the world of words to stimulate curiosity and enhance creativity.

This week’s words: Vacant, Personification, I saw it with my own eyes, No time like the present

Vacant: – Roget’s thesaurus lists the following headers for this adjective: empty, unthinking, unintelligent, unprovided, unused, free, and unpossessed. Under the sub-heading ‘unintelligent’ are a further 95 alternatives including talentless, dull, immature, retarded, vacant, limited, dense, gormless, oafish, dim-witted, barmy, and pig-headed. (English has some wonderful words!)

Let’s look at usage for Vacant:

‘Although the flat they wanted was vacant, Mandy and Max couldn’t afford the ludicrously high rent the landlord was charging.’

‘Often, when Donald was supposed to be listening, his eyes betrayed his vacant state and those who knew him well had to prepare for an ill-informed diatribe based on his own, ignorant, opinion.’

In the 1st sentence, ‘vacant’ is used in the sense of ‘empty’.

In the 2nd example, ‘vacant’ means ‘immature’, ‘dense’, ‘gormless’ or ‘pig-headed’ and describes a state that applies to many extreme politicians and leaders.

Figure of speech: Personification

Personification: is a figure in which an animal or inanimate object or idea is given human characteristics or where an abstract quality is represented in human form. This is also known as ‘anthropomorphism’, though this term is generally applied to a more prolonged example of this practice. So, a single instance is best described as ‘personification’ but a lengthy piece of text, from a paragraph to a whole book, might be better thought of as ‘anthropomorphism’. Well-known books of this type are ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.

‘Feelings of envy, lust, uncertainty, and hope clamoured within her.’ (Feelings are qualities and have no voice with which to call attention to themselves)

‘The clouds competed to block the rays of the full moon.’ (Clouds lack volition)


Redundancies are words serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.

This week’s example: ‘I saw it with my own eyes’. Since it’s impossible to literally see through another’s eyes (though this is figuratively something authors do all the time, and empathetic carers attempt with their patients) most of this phrase can be replaced with the simple, ‘I saw it’. The rest is filler.

‘The body was lying in a pool of blood. I saw it with my own eyes!’ is more simply stated; ‘I saw the body lying in a pool of blood.’ However, bear in mind the mood or tone of the piece, and judge whether the longer version might have more impact on the reader.

Cliché; a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been so overused it no longer holds any power. However, clichés usually come into being as the result of their original effective ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate. In dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.

No time like the present: an expression meaning whatever needs doing or saying should be dealt with now.

‘If we’re to get this show started, there’s no time like the present!’ Might be better stated: ‘If we’re to get this show started, we should do it now.’

Language learners might find this link useful for pronunciation queries, and you’ll reach a great group page on Facebook if you click this link.

I contribute a monthly column to an online magazine, Pandora’s Box Gazette where I also deal with the use of words. To take a look, click this link.

I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for any ideas and thoughts.

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